Rural grant a ‘tiny drop’ of what is needed in Norfolk

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Extra funds awarded to Norfolk councils to help deliver services to rural communities, are a ‘tiny drop’ of what is needed, it has been claimed.

In the handout, the Government announced £98,308 extra for Norfolk County Council – an amount equivalent to 0.3 per cent of its total central pot award of £314,154,000.

Steve Morphew, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for finance, said: “Whilst it’s always good to get a bit extra, this is not a sum of money that’s going to be a game changer in a county the size of Norfolk. With the problems we are facing we’d want at least another naught on that.

“There isn’t any doubt that delivering services to sparsely populated areas is considerably more difficult and therefore more expensive.

“Dripping tiny bits of money on the problem is never going to resolve it.”

The extra funding was announced after high-profile campaigns for a better deal for rural areas from central coffers.

The Government set aside an extra £2 million for the most rural areas and has split the money between almost 100 local authorities.

West Norfolk Council got £11,428, Breckland got £11,665 and North Norfolk got £11,945 from the Rural Services Delivery Grant pot.

Nick Daubney said: “We have been lobbying the Government pretty hard because it’s a fact that per capita those in cities and major towns get so much more.

“We know we are not going to get equity but we have been lobbying hard so that gap narrows.

“It is more expensive to deliver services in rural areas because you can’t concentrate services in particular areas.

“To be fair to the Government, considering there have had to be overall cuts, they have narrowed the gap a little bit year on year.

“At least they have been listening to our arguments.”

The cash came on top of previously announced increments for rural services delivery, totalling £9.5 million.

Norfolk County Council got a £466,963 slice of that and West Norfolk Council was awarded £54,283 – compared with £412,401 and £48,802 respectively last year.

Breckland received £55,409 and North Norfolk £56,739.

The Rural Services Network claims urban areas receive 50 per cent more per head from central funds than rural areas.

It argues that the disparity means council tax – the other main income stream for local authorities – is much higher per head in rural areas.

Its website says: “We appreciate that we are in a time of austerity and cuts are being made to local government funding, however we are campaigning for a fairer distribution of the funds so that historical imbalances where rural areas are penalised do not continue.”

It wants to reduce the “rural penalty” to 10 per cent by 2020.

The overall local finance settlement for West Norfolk Council has been cut by 6.4 per cent this year compared to last year, even including the additional rural grants.

This year, the council will receive £12,909,996 compared with £13,786,102 last year.

This year, local authorities were again rewarded with a grant for freezing Council Tax. The grant was worth £65,130 to West Norfolk Council this year.